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Kenneth McKenney recently left the Ukrainian city of Donesk and arrived in Summerside to do missionary work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
SUMMERSIDE – While the rest of the world was watching history unfold in Ukraine on their TVs, Kenneth McKenney was experiencing it firsthand.
The 20-year-old Edmonton man spent the last 16 months living in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donesk, working as a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
He and several other missionaries with the church were recently evacuated from that part of the country and recalled to the national capital of Kiev after the situation in Donesk became volatile. Soon after, clashes between the Ukrainian military and armed pro-Russian groups in Donesk have killed dozens of people.
McKenney has since been reassigned back to Canada and landed in Summerside about a week ago. He’ll be part of a team of missionaries working here for the next several months.
He’s glad to be here, he said, but the full experience of being in Ukraine during such major events is still sinking in.
“It was scary at times. I learned to love these people and I could see they were just trying to protect their homes. I prayed hard about a lot of things there, that everything would be alright,” said McKenney.
Ukraine has been rocked by internal disputes and outright invasion by the Russian Federation for months.
McKenney was there for more than a year, he said, and politics was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about.
“Whenever we’d try to bring up religion, they’d bring up government politics,” he recalled.
Things were relatively quiet where he was living, he added, until the Crimea situation erupted. Then the protests started.
He and his missionary partner were walking along one of the city’s main streets one day when trucks full of pro-Russian protesters pulled up and started seizing government buildings.
The situation would go through phases after that, he said, with spats of deadly violence and protests giving way to relative calm.
“It was kind of uneasy with us and the people. We didn’t know when the next attacks would be or what else would happen,” he said.
“So that was kind of scary – just the uncertainty of what was going to happen.”
The missionaries tried to avoid the city centre, which is where most of the protests were focused, and any time they came across a large group of people they’d remove their nametags and avoid the crowd.
A few times they were put on lockdown at their residence, warned by their missionary office and church leaders not to leave their building.
Finally, about a month ago McKenney and other missionaries were pulled out of the region.
During his mission work, McKenney isn’t allowed to watch TV or plug into mass media, so it’s hard for him to keep up with the situation in Ukraine. But he doesn’t like what he hears through e-mail and in conversation.
“It’s uneasy to hear, but I just hope everything will be OK. That’s really all I can do,” he said.